I love picture books. Before I ever had kids, before I ever WANTED to have kids, I collected picture books. Weird ones, funny ones, pretty ones. Then I had kids, and my criteria changed. Kids don't sit still while you read them elaborately drawn, overly wordy picture books. You don't want to spend HOURS reading elaborately drawn, overly wordy books, either. Suddenly David Wiesner and Sandra Boynton were looking like a pair of geniuses, when I had previously been mildly entertained by him, and condescendingly amused by her. Now, too, my picture book shopping involves a great deal of diverting my son from Disney and other cartoon tie-ins, and trying to entice him with, ahem, real books.
So here are our favorite "real" picture books of the year!
1. We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems
Willems' Elephant and Piggie series for beginning readers are simply wonderful: hilarious, charming, and a nice way to get kids excited to read. This is my favorite of all time: Gerald the Elephant and his best friend, Piggie, discover that they are characters in a book! Piggie entertains herself by making the reader say things, and Gerald freaks out when he realizes that the book will soon end.
2. Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems
A tender goodbye to everyone's favorite stuffed toy. We laughed until the last two pages, and then we (well, ok, I) bawled over the ending.
3. Baby Happy, Baby Sad by Leslie Patricelli
Have a baby or toddler? Know about the constant mood swings? You need this book. My two-year-old reads it to herself and laughs uproariously. Then she suddenly becomes sad . . . and the rollercoast begins anew.
4. It's A Book! by Lane Smith
Not really for kids, because of the inappropriate punch line, but a hilarious look at our sadly plugged in youth.
5. Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer
And Venice will never be the same!
6. Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide and Lane Smith
A charming fairy tale about a young princess with an unusual problem. It also stars a redhaired boy called Boy, which makes my redhaired Boy feel like a star!
7. Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton
Who doesn't want their own personal penguin? My daughter certainly does! Also, check out Davy Jones singing the song on YouTube for extra fun!
8. Red Sings From Treetops: A Year In Color by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski
A Caldecott Honor book from last year, with gorgeous and vaguely European looking illustrations and a fascinating way of helping children associate the different seasons with their signature colors.
9. The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale
I'm not just saying this because he's a personal friend, I swear: Nathan Hale is a picture book GENIUS. Every one of the books that he has written and illustrated has become an instant favorite of my son's. Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School, The Devil You Know, and now this one. After one (ONE!) reading, my son could sing the entire song, and went around doing so all during Christmas. He loved it, and I loved it. My husband loved it. My daughter loved the pictures, but threw things at anyone who tried to sing it. (That's because she throws things at anyone who sings, though.) This is a new Christmas classic, at least in our robot loving household!
10. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Neil Gaiman does indeed have some crazy hair. Google the man and see for yourself. But the combination of Gaiman's poem about his hair (begun as a present for one of his daughters, who calls him Mr. Crazy Hair), combined with McKean's wild illustrations, is beyond crazy and approaching sublime.
11. The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren
Like the average American, I'm mostly familiar with Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, though I did love Ronia Robber's Daughter as a child. Last year I discovered that this beautiful picture book existed, and received a copy for Christmas. Gentle watercolors combined with a hushed and comforting story about the kind little gnome who cares for a snowbound farm filled me with such a sense of warmth and love that I had trouble not crying while I read it to my son. (Yes, yes, I know I even cry over Knuffle Bunny, but seriously, this is a beautiful book.)
Honorable Mentions go to Binky, The Birthday Box, and Tubby by Leslie Patricelli, Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems, and the gorgeous Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant.